My Mother Asked What Are You Doing Ward?

 

This is a story my mother told me about my first interest in the circus. It happened when I was about three or four years old.  I was born and lived in Nebraska it was very, very cold there in the winter.  My mother said that on one cold winter day we were in the kitchen.  I had two kitchen chairs; I put them back to back maybe two feet apart.  I took a blanket and put over the backs of the chairs, I was underneath this blanket and my mother asked me, "what are you doing there Ward?"  "I'm playing in my circus tent" and to my family's knowledge the word circus had never been used it the house in my presence.  This was during the heart of the depression so we didn't get news papers or television and there were no magazines.  There wasn't a movie theater in town and at that age I probably wouldn't have seen one anyway, we never had a radio until I was seven.  So no body could figure out where I had ever heard the word circus or would know that I was playing in a circus tent.  I can only guess that I was pre-ordained to be in this business.

I saw my first circus when I was eight, I saw another one when I was nine and then again when I was twelve. 

When I was about eight or nine years old we lived in Kankakee Illinois.  In the winter time during the depression especially, sideshow operators would often take their show go into a town and rent an empty store building.  The rule of thumb was the closer you could get to a Woolworth Five and Dime store the better the location.  They would stay for a week in the smaller town, In the larger town six weeks to two months as long as business would hold up.  This particular time they had a promotion with Medal Gold Dairy, after school on this one particular day you could go down town to the store show and it would cost you a nickel.  For the nickel you got a little tube of ice cream and you got to see the show.  One of the things I remember about that show was an Indian with a full feathered headdress.  I also remember they had a strongman and this guy that did Popeye the Sailor.  There was a tattooed lady, a pin head and most of all I remembered seeing the magician.  This magician did his act and when he had finished all his tricks, he would put them all into a paper bag and he sold them for a quarter.  You knew if I would have had a quarter at that time I would have for sure bought that bag of tricks, but I didn't.  This was like I said I was eight or nine years old. 

We went back to Nebraska I think I was twelve years old then, we were still in Trenton.  My father had a job as time keeper at the Air Force Base which was being built in Macook Nebraska which was twenty miles away.  My father invited me to come down and stay with him for a week in Macook.  It just so happened that Johnny Howard's store show was in Macook that week.  It was a dime admission so of course I went every day to see the sideshow.  There was a ventriloquist his name was; well it slips me right at this moment.  He did the Vent act, he also did the magic and sold the tricks.  By hanging around  for several hours every day, I would see the fat girl was cutting out the little paper dolls to make the dancing girl and the little black dwarf was folding the papers to make the coin vanisher and so on of course,  I bought one of their packages.

When I was fourteen, I worked as a prop boy for Cole Brothers Circus for a very few days.  The next spring I was still fourteen I worked on a show by the name of Sun Brock's Super Colossal Wild West Show and Hollywood Thrill Circus Combined it was an indoor show that was playing in the stock show coliseum I worked as a clown.  It is certainly a blessing that I didn't follow that line of business because I had to be the worlds worst clown ever.  The show was to open Easter Sunday. There had been a lot of advanced ticket sales, but because of a Sunday Blue Law there had been no permit issued.  I was asked to man the box office to handle refunds.  There was a heavy snow fall and other problems which caused the show to close within the week.  The man who ran the show got arrested on several charges like false advertising and parading without a license as well. 

 

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